When it comes to taking care of your car, washing and waxing keeps the outside looking good. When it comes to the inside, your car seats can benefit from more than a quick brush down or vacuum.
Mary Findley, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Cleaning" and owner and developer of the Mary Moppins cleaning system, is an expert with tips on how car owners can keep their car seats clean.
"I think the problem with car seats is that they are not cleaned frequently enough between major car cleanings. Taking them out once a week and turning them upside down to remove crumbs is vital. You can quickly wipe over them with a barely damp cloth for a quick clean," she says.
Findley suggests cleaning different seat surfaces like vinyl and leather every three months with a bees wax based cleaner and conditioner.
"Look for one that does both ... just make sure the leather cleaner and conditioner do not contain petroleum distillates or oil, as either can damage the leather or vinyl.
"Wipe leather or vinyl seats weekly with a damp cloth. Fabric seats should be vacuumed at least once a month. Pull them out once a week and turn them upside down to get rid of the loose debris. Wipe them every three months with a damp cloth," she says.
Stains can be removed from fabric seats by dampening the stain and dabbing on a bit of organic liquid, dish-washing detergent. Let it sit for five minutes and rinse with 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water.
While most car seats can be vacuumed, many owners, especially mothers, are busy and never get around to it. Findley recommends taking a baby blanket and fitting it around the car seat. This will catch most of the crumbs. While it won't stop spills, it is easy to launder and reduces wear on the seat fabric.
Findley suggests using the kind of sponge sold to remove pet hair from furniture. "It does an excellent job removing surface dust from all kinds of furniture, including upholstered car seats," she says. "Grab a can of foaming shaving cream -- gel does not work -- to remove stains on the seat. It's foamy and sits on the surface so the denatured alcohol in it has time to dissolve the stain."
Findley recommends a product at pet stores called Nature's Miracle for removing pet odors and stains. She says it does a good job on urine leaks.
To protect car seats, she suggests purchasing an all white plastic tablecloth. Turn it fuzzy side up across the main seat and put a white body size bath towel on top. The towel will catch drips or spills, and the plastic prevents the main seat from getting soaked. "Be sure to get white only as any color in the towel or table cloth could cause dye issues on the main seat," Findley says.
Another option is to buy covers that specifically fit your car seats. Sure Fit's Auto Friend car seat covers come in chocolate, taupe and gray for both bucket- and bench-style seats. They also include a waterproof liner that is washable. There are also companies that sell custom-made leather seat covers for those looking to upgrade from cloth or vinyl. Katzkin Leather Interiors Inc. has customized seats in more than 1 million vehicles.
Child car seats are often overlooked when it comes to caring for the inside of your car. It is a mistake to ignore them, according to Jennifer Beall, founder of Clean Bee Baby, an eco-friendly cleaning service for baby car seats and strollers. Based in Los Angeles, Clean Bee Baby will begin franchising nationwide next year.
Beall's company provides eco-friendly steam cleaning and drying of children's care seats. Prices range from $19.99 through $59.99, which runs from a basic cleaning to disinfecting and a full steam treatment.
According to Beall, It is especially important to clean the seat completely, which means you have to get under its cover. When cleaning child car seats, Clean Baby Bee workers, who make house calls, find a lot of milk and juice stains, raisins, cereal and dried feces, among other things. Parents are generally surprised by what the cleaners find.
"There might be mold from the food found under the seat and they'll say, 'So that's what happened to the cereal; I thought he was eating it.' Or (they'll say), 'I knew I smelled something; it must be curdled milk.' Cleaning the seats is important. You don't want to expose your child to mold or E. coli," Beall says. Some of her customers schedule Clean Bee Baby to clean their children's care seats every two or three months.
Some child seats have covers that can be removed and washed though frequent laundering can remove some of the required flame retardants.
When cleaning child seats, the most important thing is to make sure they are reinstalled correctly in the car, says Beall, who estimates that up to 82 percent are improperly installed. She and all Clean Bee Baby employees are also child passenger safety technicians who know how to install car seats correctly.
Grandmother of three, Mary Findley has another idea to keep child car seats clean. "My favorite trick is to get a baby blanket and drape it over the car seat then tuck it in so it stays put. It helps protect the seat and is easy to launder. A non-slip pad found at hardware stores in the rug department will help keep the blanket in place ... well, most of the time," she says.